Vinny Del Negro, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin

Chris Paul says Game 5 against Grizzlies is ‘win or go home’

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After watching how the first four games of the playoffs have unfolded between the Clippers and the Grizzlies, it’s easy to see why teams put so much stock in having home court advantage.

Championship teams will win anywhere, of course, and will find a way to impose their will no matter the venue. But in this series, we’ve seen the home team put together largely dominant performances, so as things shift back to Los Angeles for Game 5, the Clippers have to hope they can regain their swagger from the first two games, or they know their time in this postseason will be set to expire.

“We have to come out with more energy,” Chris Paul said, via Arash Markazi of ESPN Los Angeles. “We won two games at home and they won two games at home, and that’s why you fight so hard for home-court advantage. We have to come out with the same intensity in Game 5 that we did in Games 1 and 2. We have to understand that it’s a three-game series now, and we have to play hard and compete and play the way that we know we can.”

“We got to win this game,” Paul said. “It’s win or go home.”

The winner of Game 5 obviously becomes the favorite to advance, and that would be especially true in the Clippers’ case, considering that if a Game 7 is necessary, it will be played on the floor of the Staples Center.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

While the Clippers saw plenty of things go their way in Games 1 and 2, most of the positives came from the bench unit. Any time L.A. was able to get rolling with its starters, it was due to Zach Randolph or Mark Gasol being burdened with early foul trouble that disrupted the Grizzlies’ lineup, and messed with their ability to match strength with strength on the defensive end of the floor.

The Clippers will look to be the aggressors on their home court once again, and that starts with Paul. He can’t disappear for stretches, and needs to be more involved in initiating offensive sets that result in good, high percentage shots — something that was severely lacking for the Clippers over the last couple of games in Memphis.

Blake Griffin needs to attack Randolph to make him play at both ends, and L.A. needs to get back to its trend of having everyone be responsible for rebounding as it did in the first two games of the series.

Speaking of trends, there are a couple that have been forming which have been very encouraging signs for the Grizzlies. The production level they’ve been getting from Randolph and Gasol has been increasing every game, as has the rebounding margin — which Memphis was on the wrong end of by 24 in Game 1, but has improved in every game since. After being outrebounded by 24 in Game 1, Memphis was on the other side of things in Game 4 with a plus-17 advantage on the glass.

L.A. will look to get back to its bench dominating, and will attempt to be aggressive early in establishing Griffin inside. Most importantly, the Clippers will need to find a way to slow an increasingly confident Grizzlies team, or home court advantage by itself won’t be enough to save them in this series.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.